From passion to parenting: UCT EMBA graduate’s mindful pursuit of purpose and impact

07 December 2023 | Story Elske Joubert. Photos Je’nine May. Read time >10 min.
Manisha Govender will graduate with her EMBA from the UCT GSB on Friday, 15 December.
Manisha Govender will graduate with her EMBA from the UCT GSB on Friday, 15 December.

With a commitment to being an authentic and responsible leader, while utilising ethical and responsible approaches, Manisha Govender will be graduating with her Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) from the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) on 15 December.

Born in KwaZulu-Natal, Manisha moved to Cape Town with her family when she was five. Education was highly valued in the Govender home, with both her parents emphasising its importance and worth.

“I recall my father often saying, ‘No one can ever take your education away from you’, and despite my parents not having the opportunity to fulfil their dreams of pursuing tertiary education, they made it their life mission to ensure that all three of their daughters could,” said Manisha, who has been working as the head of social media at UCT’s Communication and Marketing Department (CMD) for just over six years.

She credits a significant part of her accomplishments to the ongoing sacrifice, love and support that her parents gave her to realise her dreams.

“This commitment continues to this day.”

Education journey

After matriculating in 2003, she followed her passion for language, communications, and media at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in language, communication, and psychology. Following that, she completed her honours in language and communication and then her master’s in linguistics.

“During my time at UWC, I also took the opportunity to lecture second-year students in Communications Studies, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In 2011, I embarked on a journey in marketing by pursuing a Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing Management at UCT. This experience ignited my love for marketing, especially digital marketing. Ever since then, I have continued in my quest to deepen and expand my knowledge through various courses focused on digital marketing strategy, branding, reputation management and public relations,” she noted.

Upon entering the professional marketing realm in 2012, Manisha said she felt that she had found a connection.

“Ever since, the fusion of my passion for writing and communication, combined with a creative and innovative approach to conceptualise impactful marketing campaigns and strategies over the years, became the driving force behind my marketing journey.”


“A goal with action drives momentum because without the action component, it is only a goal.”

Along this path, she said, she had been fortunate to have “incredible mentors” who have contributed significantly to her career development.

“Those who have impacted me most have a common trait: they don’t live by words but by actions. A goal with action drives momentum because without the action component, it is only a goal. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside incredible and talented colleagues in executing impactful marketing initiatives. These experiences have enriched me and have been instrumental to my career development.”

Pursuing an EMBA

Growth has been the driving force in her pursuing her EMBA.

“The COVID-19 lockdown period in 2020 caused a mind-shift where I felt I needed to evaluate areas of my life where I needed both personal and professional growth in my career,” Manisha said.

“Embarking on an EMBA was me moving forward, making room for what was ahead. Marketing professionals like myself often find ourselves at the intersection of various business functions, necessitating a comprehensive understanding of broader strategic business functions.”

She said she also wanted to surpass her specialised expertise in marketing and communication and was driven by the desire to embrace a holistic comprehension of the business world.

“The UCT GSB EMBA programme’s emphasis on innovation, crafting sustainable business models, and creating social impact resonated deeply with my values. It also aligned perfectly with my commitment to being an authentic and responsible leader, utilising ethical and responsible approaches.”


“It has been a truly transformative experience.”

Completing the EMBA has been a humbling and rewarding experience that thoroughly tested her character, patience, relationships, and beliefs, gradually peeling away layers to reveal a deeper understanding of herself, she added. It has challenged her to think more critically, expand her perspective, and further develop her leadership potential.

“The practical applications have translated into actionable strategies, soft skills, and personal wisdom, fostering a transformative journey that I can carry with me into both my personal and professional spaces. This journey has strengthened my professional development and broadened my strategic thinking and comprehension of human behaviour – fundamental aspects of both personal and professional growth. It has been a truly transformative experience,” she said.

“I also owe a significant part of this achievement to my husband’s love and constant encouragement throughout the entire programme – cheering me on to the finish line.”


Manisha’s interest in mindfulness was sparked during the EMBA programme, where each course dedicated a module to personal development, incorporating mindfulness practices and reflection activities, among others. Personally, she said, these practices were transformative, prompting a shift in her thinking and how she navigated both her personal and professional life.

“Intrigued by this, I decided to explore mindfulness further, investigating how it had impacted other leaders in their roles, particularly within the workplace, in fostering a more fulfilled and mindful life.

“My dissertation focused on the impact of mindfulness on leaders exposed to mindfulness training as part of the EMBA degree. The outcome of this study was to be able to understand the impact practising mindfulness has on the lives of these leaders, and whether employing mindfulness practices is worthwhile practices to use in the life of a leader. Secondly, it aimed to discover which mindfulness practices were involved in having the specific impact (as experienced by these leaders); and lastly aimed to understand how organisations should look at incorporating mindfulness practices for leaders within the organisation.”

In the study, she said, she found that the leaders who have practised mindfulness consistently reported experiencing heightened awareness of self and others; improved mental health and well-being; improved ability to make conscious and controlled responses to stimuli instead of reacting; and improved relationships and engagements with others.

“Mindful practices such as breathing, applying the S.T.O.P technique, and gratitude emerged as the three most impactful practices that the study participants expressed as contributing to the experienced impact.”


In 2021, while pursuing her EMBA, Manisha and her husband discovered that they were expecting their first child, “a miracle in its own right”.

“Although highly overjoyed by the news, I was concerned about how I could care for a newborn while completing this demanding degree, which required significant after-hours and long nights. I considered taking a leave of absence to resume when my son was slightly older,” she explained.

“I was also wary not to overcommit and strain myself and compromise my health or the health of my baby during pregnancy. Through the grace of God and in Him strengthening me, along with the support of my family, I decided to persevere, believing and trusting by taking it one day at a time to complete my degree and see it to the end.”

“Being mindful of my thoughts, body and emotions as well as practising gratitude has become a cornerstone of my approach to life.” – Manisha Govender.

She eventually submitted her thesis in time and reached the finish line. “And my baby, Kiran, meaning “ray of light”, was born healthy on 3 March 2022.

First-time motherhood combined with existing responsibilities presented significant challenges.

“Understanding and addressing the needs of a newborn added complexity to my already demanding schedule. Navigating the intricacies of balancing baby care with the high energy levels required for both professional responsibilities and academic pursuits brought about a unique set of challenges,” Manisha explained.

“However, with the support of my family, who stepped in to provide assistance, allowing me moments to recharge and rest, I learned to adapt, prioritise, and persevere in the face of multiple responsibilities and newfound roles in both my personal and professional life while keeping the end goal in sight.”

Work–life balance

When Manisha isn’t neck deep in books or performing her motherly duties, she also advocates for education and its power to transform lives. She is especially passionate about how education can empower women and as a ripple effect uplift their families and communities.

“I am also passionate about travel. I enjoy immersing myself in new cultures, exploring different landscapes, and enjoying the richness of global experiences. Travel broadens my perspective and fuels my curiosity about the world. I also enjoy exploring and experimenting with the latest technology and digital trends. I have a passion for the performing arts, and local and international comedy, and I love drama – on stage, not in everyday life,” she humorously quipped.

“I enjoy the outdoors, particularly in summer, and I am definitely a water baby. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends at any given chance.”


“I find that expressing gratitude for both personal and professional aspects of my life impacts my overall well-being.”

And maintaining this balance means prioritising her well-being and doing the things she loves, while surrounding herself with people and places that provide mental and emotional stability.

“I find that expressing gratitude for both personal and professional aspects of my life impacts my overall well-being. Being mindful of my thoughts, body and emotions, as well as practising gratitude has become a cornerstone of my approach to life, guiding me through the intricacies of a demanding career and personal responsibilities. It allows me to appreciate the richness of the present moment and the fulfilment derived from both professional achievements and personal connections. By consciously integrating gratitude and mindful self-awareness into my daily life, I’ve discovered that it enhances my overall happiness and contributes significantly to a sustainable and healthy work–life balance.”

What’s next?

As she moves forward, this marketing executive said she carries with her the wisdom gained and the invaluable lessons that have moulded her path towards a future defined by purpose and impact.

“With lifelong learning, personal development, and growth, fuelled by a fusion of intentionality, passion, innovation, and creativity, these principles will guide the next chapters in both my personal life and professional marketing career.”

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